Now that the dust has settled after Great Britain’s exit from the Olympics it is time to assess what happened and how women’s football can progress.
There is no doubting that the public got behind the team and the media took notice, which is great. But I would rather concentrate on matters on the pitch. I am one of the lucky ones who didn’t need an Olympics to know that supporting women’s football was a good thing.
After GB’s exit my overriding thought was that it was all too inevitable once the team had gone behind. Canada had clearly prepared well for Team GB and had a game plan that they executed well. They knew that their chances would be few and far between so they made the most of set pieces.
By contrast Team GB seemed predictable in everything that they did. This is not a criticism of the players, if anything I would say it was a case of them being too conscientious. They know their roles well and stick to them rigidly, perhaps even too rigidly. There was a lack of creative flair and spontaneity, which ultimately meant that a well schooled Canada knew exactly what to expect.
I could see that the team were giving it everything that they had. I don’t think I have seen Jill Scott run so much and that is saying something! What was missing perhaps was the freedom to be a little more fluid in attack.
This is not something that is limited to Team GB. There are lots of teams within women’s football that are so focused on their role that all individuality seems to have been sucked out of them. I would suggest that it is a particular problem for women’s footballers because generally speaking women are more team orientated and there is a lot less ego in the women’s game. You don’t seem to get the strutting Drogba types and whilst I am quite glad of this you also don’t get as much emphasis on individual brilliance. Girls are just too good at following the plan and doing what they are told!
England and now GB have a set formation (4-3-3/4-5-1) and have had this for some time. It is well known and it is generally accepted that players coming into the squad will have to fit with this system. Everyone knows the system and what their job is. The downside is that oppositions also know the system and that the side are unlikely to divert from this, whatever happens in the game. Given that the system working has been so dependent on the specific genius of Kelly Smith playing ‘in the hole’ it was probably unsurprising that without her we struggled to create opportunities. Surely the lack of a ‘Plan B‘ is a weakness? Which leads me to ask, isn’t it about time for a change? Can there not be a little more flexibility to ensure that players who don’t instantly fit the system can be accommodated? We have no history of a prolific goalscorer in the unheralded and difficult lone striker role, perhaps its time to go with two out and out strikers and give players such as Rachel Williams a real opportunity.
On the subject of change is it wise to have the same manager of a national team for an extended period of time? Surely they and the players must get to the point where it is time for a fresh start? This isn’t like Alex Ferguson at Manchester United who can buy in players to suit his philosophy. The England manager must work with what they have and get the best from a fairly small group of players. Eventually players and manager will surely find themselves in a rut? I am not one for advocating regular chopping and changing of managers but I do think that a different perspective and fresh ideas could be what England need to push themselves on to the next level and through the glass ceiling.
Having received something of a pass from the media for the horrendous tactical substitutions and penalty shoot out disorganisation which led to our defeat against France in the World Cup, the Olympics were perhaps the continuation of a situation whereby the same players are doing the same things with unfortunately, the same results. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it and there is certainly the feeling that GB women’s football (a little like the men in fact) are the international football version of Punxsutawney Phil. Maybe its now time to move past Groundhog Day.
Pics – Gavin Ellis/tgsphoto.co.uk
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